Throughout my entire read of Care of Wooden Floors I couldn’t help but think of the Fawlty Towers episode, The Kipper and the Corpse. Much like any episode of the John Cleese masterpiece the episode starts with a seemingly ordinary situation occurring which drives Basil slightly bonkers. This of course leads into more and more over the top scenarios for the hotel owner and his guests. Will Wiles informed me that as a child he was exposed to plenty of Fawlty Towers which explains my comparisons.
Care of Wooden Floors is just a farcical as the classic 1970’s British sitcom. But if you aren’t a fan, please don’t let that put you off. This novel is a wonderfully constructed dark and almost sinister comedic novel.
Our nameless narrator has been invited to look after his friends flat while said friend, Oskar, is in Los Angeles dealing with his divorce. Oskar, it should also be mentioned, is an absolute control freak, a conductor in the Philharmonic, possibly a little OCD and brutally honest. The narrator has a simple job – look after the flat, Oskar’s two cats and above all, take care of the expensive, beautiful and pristine wooden floors.
Of course it isn’t long before there is a small spillage on Oskar’s floor. This then begins to snowball to more and more ludicrous moments of happenstance and as each situation occurs the laughter builds. Guiltily.
If I’m being honest, at first I felt the book was a little overwritten. Wiles’ writing is without a doubt brilliant, his metaphors and allegories are utterly unique. However, only 50 pages in and I felt a little bogged down by text. There was a lot of text just to depict a small turn of events. Seemingly in my own turn of events, it wasn’t long before I fell in love with Wiles’ skill despite my initial thoughts. Suddenly I was being dragged further in by in his intricate detailing of environs and emotions.
This is of course a literary novel, then, but unlike most literary novels that deal with aching hearts and passages of time, Care of Wooden Floors tracks the movements in life of what could only be described as a moron. The narrator is rather unlikable, particularly as death enters his “incidents”. We never really get to know much about this man with no name, other than his job and a past girlfriend.
We do learn quite a lot about Oskar, though. This is generally through flashbacks, but also through rather obsessive notes left behind in his flat. CD cases are opened and notes flutter out to express enthusiasm over the house guest’s choice. The piano lid is lifted to reveal a warning against playing with the instrument. It is plain to see that Oskar loves control in his life. Oskar is a fascinating character, even if he is only drip fed to us.
There is a constant thought in mind of who to side with. The narrator is not infallible, he is human – accidents occur to everyone. Oskar is condescending and too much of a perfectionist. But then he has a right to be, he has worked hard for his luxuries and our narrator seems to be a slacker of sorts. You begin to wonder why these two are even friends. It’s only when the final pages fall and the remarkable ending is revealed that we can understand fully.
And it is a laugh out loud journey to get to the end. As each pratfall occurs a snigger will escape, even more so as we watch as the main character digs himself even deeper holes. The comedic actions are highlighted by the sparseness of everything around him from the perfection of Oskar’s flat with its white walls and sheets, to the tiny supporting cast which consists of a cleaner and a friend of Oskar. Above all, the novel is incredibly voyeuristic in its closeness. You are made to feel that you should look away as things go from bad to worse to the farfetched. It’s all compounded by the fact that this flat is in a European city that is never disclosed so there is a huge language barrier, too.
This is an impossible character in an impossible situation and it makes for perfect, albeit guilty, entertainment. It’s the literary equivalent of watching somebody fall on their arse and get paid £250 for their displeasure. As mentioned before it is a very dark book and the humour won’t appeal to everyone, much like any form of farce comedy.
Will Wiles has created a wonderful debut novel that is intelligently written, horrifically funny and ponders the minute imperfections of life. Wiles makes creating a great book look effortless and he is certainly a name to keep an eye on. I know I will.
This book was supplied kindly by the publisher.